Everyone knows that they have to take the SAT or ACT for most college admissions, but what about the SAT Subject Tests? Are they really a thing? Yes, they are – particularly for students applying to the most competitive colleges and universities where they may be required or recommended. For some programs, specific SAT Subject Tests may even be required. For applicants to MIT, for example, or to other colleges' hard science or math programs, Math II or Physics SAT Subject Tests may be mandatory.
SAT Subject Tests are offered by the College Board, and students register through their College Board account. The tests are given on most days that the SAT is given, but may not be taken on the same day that the student is registered for the SAT. Each test is one hour long and students may take up to three tests at one sitting. It is not necessary to register for three: just stay and do more! However, be sure that the tests you intend to take are offered on that date. Tests are offered in Math (Math I and Math II), Literature, History (US and World), major science courses and popular foreign languages. For a full list of the tests offered and test dates for those subjects, see the College Board's list here.
Some colleges will accept the ACT alone in lieu of the SAT plus SAT Subject Tests. Some say they are "recommended" or "optional." Note, however, that almost no college will refuse your SAT Subject Test results if you send them! So applicants to the more competitive schools should plan to take these tests and submit their best scores along with their AP scores and other standardized test results.
Which tests should you take? Take what you are GREAT at – and schedule the test for the end of that course, in May or June. Students earning "A"s in Honors level or AP courses are strong candidates for that Subject Test. (And here's a tip: If the college to which you wish to apply requires more SAT Subject Tests than you can present excellent results in, maybe that school should not be on your list.)
What is a good SAT Subject Test score? Anything below 600 is non-competitive. For the most competitive schools, certainly 700 is a reasonable benchmark. Remember: This is not the SAT, a test taken by ALL college applicants. This test is only taken by those who are already excelling and will be applying to particularly competitive colleges. So the bar is high to start.
How should you prepare for the SAT Subject Test? Presumably, you are getting great preparation in your Honors or AP course. Your teacher will probably have supplementary materials for you to help you with the SAT Subject Test. In the most popular test subjects – such as Math I, Math II, US History, World History – the College Board publishes "guides" with several real tests to practice on. Note that these tests tend to be REALLY OLD, so supplement them with dedicated study guides from Barrons plus The Princeton Review or Kaplan.
Even if it is a subject you know well, be well-prepared and you'll have a great addition to add to your college admissions portfolio.
About Karen Berlin Ishii:
Karen Berlin Ishii, a Brown University graduate with over 25 years' experience as an academic and test preparation teacher, tutors students in person in New York City and internationally via Skype. She specializes in reading, writing, grammar, math, and preparation for the SAT, ACT, SSAT, ISEE and other standardized tests. Learn more about Karen at www.karenberlinishii.com.